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Army vet Jerry Miller to VA: I'm not dead

4:14 PM, Feb 3, 2012   |    comments
Jerry Miller keeps getting letters from the Department of Veteran's Affairs telling him that he is dead.
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PALM BAY, Florida (FL Today) -- Army veteran Jerry Miller held up a letter referring to him from the Department of Veterans Affairs that reads: "We're are sorry to learn of the death of the beneficiary and wish to express our sympathy."

"I really thought it was a joke," Miller said of the letter addressed to the Representatives of The Estate of Jerry L. Miller. "I'm still alive. I'm very much alive."

Frustration began to build after Miller, a former drill sergeant who served in the military for 10 years, received the fourth letter saying he was deceased, including one that said his estate had to pay back $94,509 in benefits.

Miller, 57, said the first letter came in June of last year and after being cut off from receiving his VA check for about three months, he started falling behind on paying bills. It apparently was corrected, but only a few months later, the problem resurfaced.

"Nobody knows what happened," he said. "They are trying to correct it, but I don't have faith in them."

The VA said it is aware of the problem and is working to find out how the mistake happened and to resolve it once and for all.

"It's become a national concern," said Angela Wilson, a spokeswoman at the St. Petersburg VA Regional Office. "We're working through a resolution right now."

Wilson said that several VA offices are looking into why this has happened and how to prevent it from occuring again.

"VA apologized to the veteran for this error and is taking action to remedy the situation," she said in a later email. "Further, VA is working on the necessary system fixes that will prevent an employee from processing a notice of death if there is not an exact match between the Veteran's name and Social Security or VA claim number. This decision by VA leadership makes it exceedingly unlikely a letter like this will go out in the future."

Miller's wife, Agnes, said his VA medical benefits have not been affected and he can still get treatment at Viera VA Outpatient Clinic, but holding back his money can cause problems for the family.

"I was kind of angry," she said. "Suppose he was overseas and I received a letter like that. That would cause a problem."

The latest letter from the VA dated Jan. 17, 2012 goes on to say: "Beneficiaries are not entitled to benefits for the month in which death occurred. Any checks received after the sate of death or any monies that were electronically deposited in a bank account after date of death should be returned." It continues on with instructions for returning the funds.

Miller, who suffers with hepatitis B - which he said he contracted while in the military - back problems, sleep apnia and other health issues, did not want to reveal the amount of his benefits, but said it causes financial hardship if he does not receive them for two or three months.

He is afraid that the Social Security benefit he receives also could be affected if that agency receives the same eroneous record that he is dead.

"This has been a circus," Miller said. "Social Security could cut me off, too, because they (VA) are saying I'm dead."

Miller said he wrote to elected officials early on about the issue. He said he received word from U.S. Rep. Bill Posey's office that the issue had been resolved, as Miller had been told by VA. But it was only a few months later when he again was informed by the VA that he was dead.

George Cecala, a spokesman for Posey's office would not talk specifically about Miller's case because of privacy concerns, but said such cases are rare. They usually require intervention through a congressional representative.

"We expect government agencies to move quickly to rectify these situations," he said. "If anyone has these problems, we'd be glad to assist."

Agnes Miller said she and her husband simply want the issue resolved before it gets further out of control.

"You can understand one time," she said looking at the letters spread out on the kitchen counter. "But four times. Something is wrong."

Miller said that simply tring to find the right person to talk to about the mixup has been frustrating.

"Every time we call them, they pass the buck," he said. "They transfer you to someone else."

R. Norman Moody, Florida Today

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